British Workers in the Russian Textile Industry before 1917

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Textile factories at Ivanovo, c.1890

I recently presented a short paper on my current research interests at the Textile Society’s Research Symposium (held at the Wellcome Institute, London on 28 March 2015):

Before the 1917 revolution Russia had an enormous thriving textile industry, ranking fourth in the world for production after Britain, the USA and Germany.  Much of its machinery was imported from Britain. Until they had developed their own local expertise, Russian mill-owners were dependent upon managers and engineers coming from Britain and from the other western European countries who supplied machinery, to set up equipment, to supervise its use and to train the Russian workers in many different processes.

Considerable academic work has been done on the export and use of British textile machinery in Russia, from the standpoint of economic and industrial history.  But what interests me is the social history. What was life like for those British workers in Russia?  How were they recruited?  What was the incentive for them to relocate, many from the Lancashire cotton towns, to such a different environment? How did they fit into the hierarchy of the factory and how were they received by their Russian co-workers?  If they took their families with them, how did their wives and children adapt to life in Russia? How were they affected by the strikes and violent disorder precipitated by textile workers in 1905, the year of the first abortive Russian revolution?

I am at the early stages of this investigation.  I hope to build a case-study around one manager of whom I am aware – Thomas Boardman from Rochdale, Lancashire, who went to work in the textile mill at Bogorodsk near Moscow around 1904, taking with him his wife Annie and four small children, Minnie, Bessie, Edith (Eadie) and Tom.  Thomas seems to have remained working in Russia for a considerable number of years, while his family returned to Rochdale. He sent many affectionate postcards home to the children.

I have visited Bogorodsk to see the factory and other buildings which would have been known to the Boardmans in the early 1900s, including one in the town centre which was a club specifically for the English workers. Next I want to look into the UK side of the story – at the Boardmans’ life in Rochdale before and after their years in Russia.

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3 Responses to British Workers in the Russian Textile Industry before 1917
  1. Dave Collier
    January 31, 2017 | 8:32 am

    Thanks for posting this. A most fascinating insight into Lancashire’s involvement in the development of the Russian cotton industry. It was a similar story in Oldham. There is one story on line of a family moving to Russia in the early 20th century to run cotton mills near St Petersburg. Two prolific Lancashire mill engine makers exported very large numbers of engines to power Russian textile mills from the 1860s onwards. They worked closely with Platt Brothers. These were Bolton engine makers Hick, Hargreaves & Co and John Musgrave & Sons.

    There are very few photos of these engines in Russian mills.

    An interesting area of study.

  2. Dave Burnett
    March 21, 2017 | 8:15 pm

    Hi Pamela,
    I have collected a lot of information on the family of William and George Wilson who were resident in St Petersburg and Moscow in the period 1810 to 1860. They were probably English cotton mill managers or owners from the Manchester area. If you come across them in your research I sure would like to trade information.

  3. Tim Baines
    April 2, 2017 | 11:23 pm

    Hi. My great grandfather and his wife and children moved to Russia from Bolyon to manage a cotton mill. At least one of his children was borne there. My great grandmother and the children fled in 1916 and returned to Bolton. My great grandfather was put under house arrest but smuggled out through Poland with the help of a Russian friend who was a general in the army. The mill was on the banks of the Volga. We still have some pictures. The children had an English governess but she was apparently an alcoholic and not very effective. My grandfather couldn’t read or write English when he arrived back in England. He had memories of watching the red army practice manoeuvres in the woods behind the family house.

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